I Don’t Know How She Does It – Part 4

In Part four of this series, medical brought to you by Christine Brown-Quinn, author of “Step Aside Superwoman Careeer and Family is for any Woman”, the topic of work life balance and whether it can be a reality is explored.

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Is Work-Life Balance a Pipe Dream for Professional Women – by Christine Brown-Quinn

If you looked up to working mom Kate Redding as a role model, (Kate is played by Sarah Jessica Parker in the film I don’t know how she does it), I suspect you’d come to the conclusion that work-life balance is a pipe dream.  Kate does a fantastic job taking on responsibility for everything and everyone, leaving little time to do anything for herself. Just watching the film tired me out!  But does it have to be that way? Are there no alternatives if you decide on a career AND a family?

At a recent women’s networking event I was horrified when I heard that one of top tips for getting ahead was to “work harder than your male colleagues, partner, husband, or brother.” Really? Is this what we are teaching the up and coming women in business today? Aren’t we creating this burden for ourselves by promulgating such superwoman behaviour? It’s not about working harder. It’s about working smarter and focusing on a few critical things that matter in building a career. Since we’re not superwomen, we’re only humans, promoting such behaviour as goal surely results in a lack of work-life balance.

Work-life balance is NOT a pipe dream, but there are 3 key ingredients which are often overlooked in making this aspiration a reality:

1. Keep yourself motivated and challenged

WorkingMothers.com 2010 survey Career vs Paycheck revealed that a working mother was happy in all aspects of her life when she had a high level of job satisfaction.  It’s worth noting that job satisfaction was highly correlated to a meaningful career or job – it wasn’t just about the money. Once we lose the buzz we get from our careers, the whole work-life dynamic falls apart.

How many women do you know who come back from maternity leave, feel side-lined, and   subsequently give up. “What’s the point?” they begin to wonder. If they’re going to leave precious little ones in someone else’s care, the job has got to turn them on.  I remember one day when my elderly neighbour saw me coming home from work and how amazed she seemed that I was chirpy and energetic after such a long day in the city. The secret? I felt challenged in my corporate career – the things I was learning made life very interesting.

2. Map out a routine for maximizing your individual level of performance

Organize your easy and tough tasks and challenges around those peak performance times.  Tackle the tough challenges when you feel at your best. For me it’s the first thing in the morning.  My confidence and patience levels are up and my head is clear.

I learned this by trial and error and being aware of how productive I was (or not as the case may be) at which times. There’s a key piece missing here. In order to be at your peak at work, you also need to figure out how much exercise and other activity you need to do (and how to make it happen) to keep your enthusiasm up at work.  What do you really like to do in your personal time that re-energises you. There’s so much focus on time management. It’s misplaced. We need to be focusing on managing our energy rather than our time.

3. Think Like a Business Owner

Point 2 leads really nicely into this point.  At the end of the day, what does a good manager really care about? That’s right, performance. I recently gave a talk about how important it is to invest and enrich in both the personal and professional dimensions of our lives, highlighting that it’s having both parts that can help you achieve optimal performance in each. Huh? Simply put, by having a varied life you avoid getting burned out, whether it’s caring for an elderly parent, hyper kids or a demanding career.

Dipping in out of both lives makes you appreciate each life and the benefits it brings. At the end of my talk an eager member of the audience asked, “But Christine, if I tell my boss how important my personal life is, he or she won’t get it, they won’t care.” I replied, “Well your boss may or may not care, but that’s not the point. As your manager, your boss expects you to organize your life so you can be at your best. That’s YOUR responsibility. Your boss wants to know where you are on your projects.”

The best rule of thumb to use when thinking about how to blend our increasingly complex professional and personal lives is to think like a business owner.  A business owner wants you to be as productive as you can and to manage your life to achieve this. Working 24 x 7, losing your enthusiasm, creativity and motivation isn’t good for you and it’s not good for the business.

Work-life balance is not a pipe dream. Like anything though, you’ve got to be strategic and focus on the most important parts or you’ll get lost in the detail.

This blog is part 4 of a 5-part series: I don’t know how she does it. For other blogs connected to this series, click here.

The Working Mothers’ Guilt Trip.

“Bye-bye Mummy.” the little voice whispers in my ear.  I inhale deeply and take in the scent of baby shampoo mixed with coco-pops and that smell that can’t be described in any way other than that which always reminds me of my beautiful children. I plant yet another kiss on her soft cheek, generic cialis and gently untangle myself from her tightly clasped arms around my neck. She looks at me wide-eyed, viagra sales listening intently to me promising her that I’ll be back very soon and reassuring her that she will have lots of fun.

“Come on then, darling.” calls a chirpy, upbeat voice, and a tall smiling woman comes and takes the hand of my daughter, my little girl, my little princess and takes her off to the window to look out at the birds in the garden.

I retreat slowly, calling my good-byes with the facade of a woman without a care in the world, but as I step out of the door, and pull it closed softly behind me, throwing a quick glance back into the brightly coloured world of day nursery, the tears well in my eyes like puddles on a rainy day and a lump the size of an apple lodges in my throat.

It’s a working day, which means it’s a nursery day, which means nine long hours away from my precious girl.

But that’s the choice I make. Yes, I choose to go to work, against the will of so many others who show no restraint in holding back their, often narrow-minded, views that in the early years of our childrens’ lives, a mothers place is in the home.

Little Princess Pink was 6 months old when I returned to work.  I will never forget the emotion I felt that first day when I left her in the care of the nursery for little more than an hour as I prepared myself for the transition back into corporateville and office politics. I felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest.  I looked back on the first 6 months of her life, and reflected on the little world we’d created for ourselves, just the two of us in the day whilst Super Daddy went to work, finding our way together – her in this new big world, full of colour and noise, and me in the little bubble of motherhood which was my sole focus every day, every night, round the clock.  I reflected on those momentous milestones we’d reached in just that short space of time – sleeping through the night, smiling, babbling noises, her first taste of pureed carrot, our first girly shopping expedition (shoes for me, bootees for her) and I worried myself senseless about those moments I was going to miss by choosing to go back to work.

Yet, still I returned to work. And eventually I increased my hours. But each day, come 5.30pm, when I walked through the door of the nursery room and saw her little face light up as she realised it was her mummy this time, progressing to the days where she commando crawled at lightning speed across the floor to get to me, to the days where she toddled unsteadily at first with her chubby arms outstretched for a mummy hug,  eventually progressing to the days where she categorically stated in no uncertain terms that she was having too much fun and was not coming home with me, the message hit home that this was good for her. It was good for us both.

Like all mums, I’m biased. I think LPP is the cleverest girl in the world, and she amazes me on a daily basis with her achievements. She is a confident, outgoing and bubbly girl, who is independent and sure of herself. She is a caring and considerate person, who understands the importance of sharing and being kind to others.  She articulates herself clearly and has a thirst for learning.  But she is 4, and like all 4 year olds, she does have her moments where she chooses not to share the toy that she had first, or who gets horrendously and dramatically cross if you ask her what her drawing is when it is  very clearly her coming down a waterslide with a dolphin. And, I’m taking a little credit for having got to this stage and being able to say all these wonderful things about my daughter.  I’m not for one minute saying her attending nursery for the last 3 and a half years has been the sole influence on the well-rounded character that she is developing.  In fact, I’m taking more than just a little credit, I’m taking a lot, because I spend quality time with my girl.  I have a positive influence on her character. We read together every night, we draw, we laugh, we talk about our days (she asks if I played in the sand-tray at work or if I just did some typing on my computer) we go on treasure hunts in the back garden, and dance around the kitchen to Paulo Nutini. We make cards for Super Daddy, and jewellery boxes out of old cereal boxes. We bake cakes and we often lick the bowl and the spoon too. We visit friends, we go swimming, we go to the zoo, we cuddle up on the sofa and watch Princess movies, we take all the cushions off the sofa and make our very own soft play. We sing, we do maths puzzles, we fall out with one another occasionally, and she tells me ‘I’m not your best friend.’  But we learn the lesson that not speaking to one another isn’t a nice feeling, and learn how to get along better.  We practice roller skating, we pretend we work in an ice-cream parlour,  we have picnics on the living room floor.

So yes, I work. But I haven’t missed a thing. Her first word was ‘Daddy’ (naturally), and we both heard it through the baby monitor (which was great as for the first time I was able to elbow Super Daddy and say ‘You better get up, its you she’s wanting!’). She took her first steps across our living room floor on the 16th August 2007, and it was my arms she clambered into, giggling her head off at the thrill of finding some freedom at last.  She drew her first smiley face on the blackboard she got for Christmas in 2008, and first properly wrote her name at our kitchen  table.  I don’t think I’m missing out.

But even when all that is said and done, there is still the daily guilt trip.  And it is daily.  There are mornings when she is whisked from her slumber, bleary eyed and sporting serious bed head, she is washed, dressed and has her teeth brushed in 5 minutes flat and bundled into the car with a half a  slice of toast and a banana. And her t-shirt on back to front. There are mornings when she asks if it’s a play day at home, and her shoulders slump ever so slightly when I tell her it’s a nursery day. And there are the days where I’m ashamed to say, and I know with certainty that I’m not alone, where I sense she is slightly under the weather, but I dispense a spoonful of Calpol and coax her into going off to nursery, knowing she’ll be fine by the time she gets there, and at the very least allowing me to get to the office to grab those reports that absolutely must be signed-off today before the call comes from nursery to say her fever has spiked and I best go collect her.

And this guilt trip I talk of, isn’t just a single route, there are a fair few turnings at jealousy junction.

There are moments where I sit in meetings getting increasingly annoyed by petty politics, or no movement on key projects and I wonder why I bust my ass to line the coffers of the ‘high heid yins’ as my Father would say, when I could be at home making farm animals out of playdough and singing endless renditions of ‘there’s a worm at the bottom of my garden’. There are times when I catch myself looking at the clock knowing my fellow mum friends who don’t work will just be heading to feed the ducks with the littlies, before grabbing coffee and cake and letting the nippers run off their energies in the soft play.

Yet, I still choose to work.

Even when Little Monster Blue made his appearance in February 2009, I knew I would follow the same route with him as with LPP.  After a year of maternity leave, I planned my return to work, and went through the same rollercoaster of emotions on that very first day when I left him in the same baby room that I left LPP 3 and half years ago.  But this time, I found I could step away a little more quickly, because I knew he would be just fine.  He’s only been there for 6 months, and we’ve rapidly progressed from the tears and the tug of war we had when I first started leaving him there, to the place where he now pushes me out of the door the minute we arrive and runs off to grab the sweeping brush from the house corner. Yeah, I know.  We’re working on macho-ing him up a bit.

So please, fellow mums, when I stand up, take a deep breath and say ‘My name is Julie-Ann, and I’m a working mother’ don’t shoot me down in flames for choosing to work, don’t look at me with disdain, or worse, pity me.  I have the right balance for me, for my kids and for my sanity, even if I still take a road trip to guilt city every now and then.

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